A recent announcement by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is a sign of the ever-increasing popularity of table tennis globally and in the United States, and reminds us of the power of sports to bring people together.
In addition to being an Olympic sport, table tennis holds an annual World Table Tennis Championship, with individual events (men’s and women’s singles and doubles) in odd years and team events in even years. During this year’s championship held in Budapest, it was announced that Houston, Texas will host the 2021 World Table Tennis Championship, and Chengdu, China will host the event in 2022. 2021 will mark the first time the United States has hosted the event and the first time it will be held outside of Europe or Asia since 1939. Indeed, ITTF chief executive Steve Dainton said: “We noticed raised interest in hosting the World Championships Finals, due to the expansion of the competition from 2021, which adds even more value and prestige. The quality of the bids we received is fantastic news for table tennis globally.” To illustrate this added prestige, the 2021 event will be held at Houston’s Toyota Center, a larger and more high-profile venue than is typical for international table tennis events.
The ITTF is among the most inclusive sports federations in the world with 227 countries and territories forming its membership. Houston, being among the most diverse cities in the United States, was a natural fit to host this international event. Whereas table tennis in the United States has largely been confined to the basement, competitive table tennis has been steadily gaining in popularity in recent years in the United States, particularly among immigrant communities. Choosing Houston as the site of the world championships will only further accelerate this process.
Notably, the United States and China agreed to support their respective bids. Prominent supporters of the bids for Houston and Chengdu included former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming and Christopher Nixon Cox, President Richard Nixon’s grandson. It certainly is no coincidence that 2021 will mark the 50th anniversary of “ping pong diplomacy,” when the United States table tennis team was invited to China to play exhibition matches against the Chinese team. They were the first American delegation in China’s capital since 1949, paving the way for President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.
So whether you call it ping-pong or table tennis, the future of the sport is certainly bright.